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Police chiefs want power to get people’s phone passwords

Police chiefs want power to get people’s phone passwords 

The police chiefs said that developments in mobile technology now allow criminals to encrypt data such as voice conversations and text messages, geo-location information, and contact information stored on their phones and mobile devices. The CACP passed a resolution which calls for legislation that would allow police, in the course of their investigation, to access such information from password-protected devices.

The CACP “urges the Government of Canada, for the purpose of community safety, to identify a legislative means for public safety agencies inclusive of law enforcement, through judicial authority, to compel the holder of an encryption key or password to reveal it to law enforcement.”

The CACP’s resolution comes at a time when the federal government has opened up consultations on cyber security. Among the issues being discussed in the consultations which run until October 15,  is how to balance online and mobile freedoms with security.

In a press conference yesterday, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Assistant Commissioner Joe Oliver told journalists current mobile and online communication technologies have allowed criminal groups and individuals to operate in near anonymity and cover up their activities.

“Canada’s law and policing capabilities must keep pace with the evolution of technology,” he said.

The CACP referred to recent comments by Chief Terrence Cunningham, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) who had spoken on what he calls the issue of “going dark” and the challenges of collecting electronic evidence.


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“The increasing inability of law enforcement with lawful authority to access electronic communications is a global problem that transcends all boundaries,” said Cunningham, who is chief of Wellesley, Massachusetts, Police Department. “The proliferation of electronic communications has enabled criminals, even unsophisticated ones, to take advantage of encrypted communications.”

The IACP’s position on the issue and the changes there are seeking are contained in the document: Data, Privacy, and Public Safety.

The challenge of balancing the demand of police authorities to access data on people’s mobile devices and computers and the need to protect individual privacy has been a festering issue for several years now.

Early this year, there was a storm of debates over the first-of-its-kind ruling by U.S. Judge Sheri Pym instructing Apple to assist law enforcement authorities to decrypt the iPhone belonging to Syed Farook. Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik killed 14 of Farook’s co-workers during a December 2015 holiday luncheon. The massacre has been called the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil since the 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.

While law enforcement agencies argued for better access to encrypted data, many technology leaders and privacy advocates countered that creating a backdoor access to peoples’ devices would not increase public safety but rather erode individual privacy rights.

In Canada, David Christopher, a spokesperson for the OpenMedia, a group that advocates against online surveillance, told the Canadian Press that CACP’s proposal “clearly unconstitutional.”

He said giving police the power to get someone’s password is “wildly disproportionate” since “in the case of a laptop computer, it could mean handing over the key to your whole life.”

(Banner image courtesy of Ervins Strauhmanis)

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